Tuesday, April 21, 2015

the generation that belongs nowhere (part 1?)

I never knew what Pan Mee was until I was 16. Seriously. I would see these stalls at the breakfast hawker centres (oh you know.. just your regular neighbourhood hawker centres or when I was young O&S. Yup O& fking S where you would wait half an hour to get a table and another half before your food would arrive. Sometimes the Loh Bak uncle would forget your order and you'd be waiting like a moron for something that was never going to come. I digress). Yes, so Pan Mee. Pan and mee. Noodle in a pan? Like fried noodles? I was always curious as to what they were but being a regular Chinese kid is pretty much eating whatever your mother orders you. You don't really question stuff when you're a child. I can probably understand where my mother was coming from with regards to her executive decisions when it came to ordering food. Finances were tight when the family was starting out so it made much more sense to always order the comfort food they know rather than take a chance of a dive into the unknown gastronomical abyss. I get that but boy was I missing out on the world.

I have to tell you something about what my Indonesian friend Sugi once told me about something he read in a psychology (or was it philosophy?) book. He was my senior in medical school and we met at the university Buddhist Society Club (which I loathed yet now realize it, too, has contributed to my present character but that's another story). He'd invite me out on platonic dates and we'd cruise on his motorbike off the beaten paths of Bandung. He told me there is a certain law to the phases in our lives. Take for example our 'rebellious phase'. Everyone will go through this 'teenage rebel' sh*t in their lives but the only matter is when. Most of us get into it at our teenage years. There are a handful that do not and may end up rebelling at the age of 22. I've had a friend's husband who only started rebelling his parents at that age. That, too, is another story. The trick to it all is getting out of the phase which can be tricky. For the general population, most of the angst wanes out once we hit our 20s and we can look back and laugh at all the so-called anarchy we used to stir up as kids. Some people, unfortunately, do not or do not know how to leave end up being trapped in that certain phase in their lives. That is when it becomes detrimental.

So when my friends told me they were all heading to DJ hawker centre to have pan mee, I felt embarrassed having to own up to the fact that I had no freaking idea what pan mee was.
Me: So uhh... what's pan mee?
Friend: What the hell?? Pan mee! You mean you've never had pan mee??
Me: No. What is that? Is it fried?
Friend: What?? Hey ppl, Shelby's never had pan mee!
Everyone: Wh?? You are so not cool.
Me: :(

Turns out (dry) pan mee was the shiznit. Subliminal. Chewy handmade noodles mixed in sticky soy sauce concoction with crispy ikan bilis (anchovies) and minced meat with a side of egg-laced kau-kei (wolfberry leaves) soup. My mind was blown and I was never ever the same.

I'm telling you (about the whole rebel thing) this because one of my first signs of so-called teenage rebellion was taking a stand on what I wanted to eat. I know this because the request made my mother stare back at me in horror. Her eyes widened, her brows furrowed and her left nostril did a cobra pose. I did not want to have yong tau foo. I did not want to have chee cheong fun. I wanted to try prawn noodles (yup never had prawn noodles until I was 16 too). And me requesting to have my own order was the first sense of liberation that I never knew I craved. The rest, as they would say, is a glutton's history.

Later on in my life my mother did remark that she envied my ability to stomach sashimi and pasta as she would never be able to come to terms with that sort of cuisine. I just explained to her that it's a 'my generation' thing. Our palate is more embracing of cultural differences but even so I, too, have realised I am pretty much turning into my mother. I don't know if I would be able to muster the courage to try balut and I, now, appreciate my parentals' choice of same-ole-lengcheekang-auntie more than ever.

Point is, coming from an 80s generation (Gen-Y Echoboomers holla!), I am neither the stick-up-my-ass only-bakkutteh-for-breakfast nor the snooty overpriced-cafe-avo-on-toast-errday (on a side note my mother cares not for avocado).  I am the gray area between the dichotomy of my parents people and the newlings. I learnt about the existence of Pop Tart from 'Can't Hardly Wait' and was thrilled to find it Savemart (finding something you've always been curious about can feel like you've won the lottery!). I drank hot teh-o from the saucer like a boss. I was fortunate to experience what I'd now consider recreated vintage and am still able to maintain pace, albeit panting, with social media. And when I say I huff and puff it's because kids nowadays think chatroulette is the norm when I thought dial-up "croo-croo-ring-ring-ring" IRC was god's gift to youth. And please don't even make me explain how chatroulette works to my father.. he's still coming to grasp with FaceTime.

P.S. I have since made up for all the loss in the pan mee department.

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